It would be tempting to say that this picture is a metaphor for these COVID19 times, but actually that would be quite crass. While all the restriction have been in place I’ve been determined to have some creative output and this is part of it. Over the last week I’ve been making myself go out in the evening to photograph. To make things a little more interesting I decided to impose a restrictions on myself. In this case I would use a focal length that I don’t particularity like (50mm) and an old vintage lens on a digital camera.I’ve walked past this wreck many times with the dog and really not taken any notice of it. Well on this particular evening the local farmers had been burning off and the smoke in the air was creating a nice warm light as the setting sun shone through it. I thought that the rust of the car complemented the warm lighting.
Australian summers are hot and dry, and while we are not in a drought cycle like the Eastern States, it does get very warm here in York. 45º C is not unheard of. The hot weather and the lack of rain means that the Avon River largely dries up with the exception of a few deep pools, and so I often go walking along the dry river bed with Frida my faithful canine companion as it allows me to view quite a variety of wildlife that congregates around the pools.
It’s not just birds we see, there are small fish in the ponds (difficult to photograph) and masses of different insects like this damselfly below.
Frida usually takes my photographic hijacking of her morning walks with good grace. She usually waits for me either in some convenient shade or as shown below standing in some water. She’s not as daft as she looks!
The other morning we were quite surprised to have a fox pop out of the long grass on the river bank and on to river bed. Initially it took off, but when it saw that Frida wasn’t in hot pursuit slowed down and turned back. The fox and Frida then played a mad game of chase up and down taking it in turns to be the chaser and the the chasee. Quite delightful to watch. It was like the canine equivalent of Kevin Costner’s film Dances With Wolves. Unfortunately by this time the battery in the camera had run flat so I was unable to take any photos of this rather special occurrence. Although this being a predominantly farming community most round here would not regard it as such as they belong to the “only good fox is a dead fox” brigade. A couple of days later we went back to see if the event could be repeated and I had a pocket full of batteries to ensure that I got some photos. We did find the fox in the same location but this time both it and Frida were indifferent to each other and the fox disappeared into the undergrowth on the opposite bank. Again I stuffed up the photography and all I got was the slightly blurred image below. Perhaps we’ll try again.
The soundtrack for summer in the Western Australian bush is provided by Broome based band the Pigram Brothers and their track Dry River Bed provided the title and inspiration for this blog entry.
When your drifting on the ocean
and the sea is a perfect blue
But those storm clouds on the horizon
are keeping you true to who are you
So take me away ‘cross the spinifex plains
where the true mirage never ends
And the smell of the rain is a long way away
lay me down on my dry river bed
Don’t have no white picket fence,
don’t have no green english lawn
Just got heat waves dancing for me,
on the red dirt where I was born
Feel the heart of my country,
beating to them lonely blues
Gotta get back there, gotta get back there,
I’ll be back there real soon
Pigram Brothers – Dry River Bed Music and Words: ( S Pigram/A, D, G, P, S Pigram, P Mamid)
I’ve been meaning to write a review of this lens for a long time – well over a year in fact – and it has proven difficult for a number of reasons which will become apparent as we proceed. In an ideal world all lenses would be wonderful for every possible use we put them to, and to be fair with modern lens their computer aided design makes this happen for the most part. Things get sketchy when we are dealing with older designs on modern digital cameras. High resolution digital imaging has placed a great deal of strain on lenses. With film only a few people had the time, ability, resources and inclination to examine the optical performance of lenses. This was largely the province of a few magazines (remember them?) and they would accompany a review with a couple of graphs which would reference the resolving capabilities with fine grains low ISO black and white films developed in special developers designed to minimise grain and maximise acutance. Now anyone can open up an image in Photoshop and zoom into 200% and see a lenses faults. This is why Canon, Nikon and independents such as Sigma are going through their catalogue of lenses and updating them, and this need for optical improvements explains why lenses are getting bigger, heavier and more expensive. Back to the matter at hand. The video below is the short version.
The Voigtländer 15mm f4.5 Aspherical Super wide-Heliar to give its full name is really the antithesis of modern lens design. It is small, light, affordable and not heavily optically corrected. But having said that this is the lens that really put Cosina’s re-launch of the Voigtländer brand on the radar of photographers. I can remember when this lens first came out a friend of mine borrowed one and ran around madly shooting roll after roll of film with a silly look on his face enthusing about it wildly. Up until then the widest lens in Leica M mount was the Zeiss 15mm f8 Hologon of which only 225 were made and currently change hands for around the $10,000 USD for one in mint condition.
The Voigtländer 15mm f4.5 is now discontinued but can be obtained as new old stock for approximately $600 USD, or second-hand on Ebay for around the $400 USD mark at the time of writing.
Mount – Leica thread or L39
Angle of view – 110º
Lens construction – 8 elements in 6 groups with one aspherical element
Number of aperture blades – 10
Aperture range f4.5 – f22 in half click stops
Minimum focusing distance – 29.85cm or 11.75 inches
Weight – 113g or 4oz
Diameter 49.6mm or 1.94 inches
Length – 30.7mm or 1.2 inches
Filter thread – N/A
Lens hood – built in tulip style
Rangefinder coupling – no
The lens is very well made – up to Cosina’s very high standards and it has, despite its diminutive size a solid feel and satisfying heft. The aperture ring is at the front of the lens, as is usual with rangefinder lenses, and turns nicely with satisfying half stop click indents. The focusing action is very smooth and has an approximate 100º throw. I found that I tended to use hyper focal distances to zone focus the lens in use as the short focal length means that the DOF is immense. The lens has a very clearly marked scale to make this easy. An aperture of f8 means that everything from 0.5m to infinity is in focus. Conversely lovers of shallow depth of field should really be looking elsewhere.
Years ago Clint Eastwood made a film called “The “Good, The Bad, The Ugly” (a movie which had the coolest theme tune ever, actually that is an exaggeration as everyone knows Shaft had the coolest, but it’s a close run thing) well this lens is all three. Good, bad and ugly. The good comes when you use the lens as intended on a film rangefinder body. The bad when you mount it on a digital m4/3s body and the ugly when you put in from of the A7r’s 36Mp sensor. This lens is one of the worst I’ve ever had on a digital camera – the worst was a $20 25 mm f/8 Holga lens in m4/3s mount which I tried using on my Olympus EP2 several years ago, but that is, as they say, another story. My friend who I mentioned earlier abused Kodak Tri-X by pushing it, developing in Rodinal and then lith printed the results. He wouldn’t have noticed what I’m about to describe. So this is how it was on the Sony A7r.Right from the get go there is obvious barrel distortion. Wide open there is considerable vignetting which has a very obvious magenta cast. No matter how far you stop down this does not go away (kind of like Mormon missionaries on your doorstep). Wide open the centre sharpness is quite good and remains so until f22 when diffraction rears its ugly head. The corners are smeared and out of focus, things improve a little by f11 but they never get to the level of sharpness of the centre of the lens. Chromatic aberration is also present throughout the aperture range. Flare for such a wide lens is remarkably well controlled and lovers of sunstars should be happy as the 10 aperture blades produce nice results.
The reasons for this are that Voigtländer 15mm was designed for use with film and the silver halide crystals in the film emulsion did not care at what angle lights hits them to provide the necessary reaction to form the latent image. But with a digital sensor it is a whole different ball game because the sensor is no longer just a gelatine substrate coated with an emulsion containing silver halide crystals it is a complex sandwich of filters, lenses and electronic componentry as the schematics show. For best performance the light needs to enter micro lenses at 90º, when the incidence of the light is severely off perpendicular then not all of it reaches the pixel at the bottom of its well this can cause vignetting, smearing with loss of detail, and severe colour fringing. This is what stopped Leica initially developing a digital range finder. Kodak developed a special sensor with offset micro lenses for Leica to help overcome this along with in camera software correction the digital M became a reality.
For stills photography the 15mm f4.5 could be a consideration if you don’t have the current fixation of razor sharpness corner to corner i.e. if the hero of your shot is central to the frame and you don’t mind loss of sharpness at the edges. Working in monochrome would help get rid of the magenta cast of the edges as well. Have said that the magenta cast and vignetting are removable in post, the accompanying video shows how this can be done in Lightroom. In the gallery of example pictures below I’ve left the magenta cast in some of the photos so you can see what it looks like. If you’d like to see the photos larger they can be seen here.
Video is another matter. Ideally this lens should be perfect for vlogging on a Sony A7 but the smearing, colour cast and vignetting make it quite unsuitable. Also it has no filter threads so it is impossible to use a variable neutral density filter which further adds to its unsuitability.
To be completely fair we are demonstrating uses for this lens that it was never designed for. With film and optical/chemical printing it is an amazing lens at very cheap price. When looking at it from a digital imaging point of view, whether stills or video, it really can’t be recommended unless you already own it and are prepared to put up with its short comings. If you are looking for an ultra wide the are better options available such as the Laowa 15mm f/2 Zero-D Lens.
I’m always pleasantly surprised by the things I find while pootling along the back roads of Western Australia. Last weekend was a case in point. I was driving along the bucolic Ferguson Valley in the south-west of the state when I came across something that just expressed a sense of spontaneous anarchistic fun. That something was Gnomesville. We’ve all seen garden gnomes haven’t we? You know those kitsch garden ornaments usually made out of plaster and sometimes out of cement that can be found in gardens all over the world. Usually they are seen singly, occasionally in twos or threes. Sometimes you come across a garden that has maybe a couple of dozen and that is regarded as a bit OTT. So imagine a place with thousands of gnomes. That’s right thousands. The exact number is not known, but some reckon the figure could be as high as 5000. They are not in a garden, it’s not some commercial tourist attraction. Gnomesville is found on the verge by a roundabout in a very rural setting.
The whole thing is absolutely bonkers. So how did it start? Well there is the legend of Gnomesville which is as follows:
“A long, long time ago, a Gnome was travelling on an Australian country road. It was at night and far from anywhere. All around was leafy and green. A pleasant place.
By and by, he came to a fork in the road. He followed the road, which seemed to go around and around.
Now, being a little person, he could not see over the curb. If he did, the story would have ended here.
He walked all night with the feeling he was going nowhere. Roads branched off every so often. By the morning, he was exhausted. Then it was clear. He had come across a ROUNDABOUT—a circular intersection in the middle of (almost) nowhere.
This was something he had never seen as a country traveller.
But it was a nice place and reminded him of home. There was a bubbling brook and shady trees. So he stayed a while. And another while. Other Gnomes passed and visited, and many stayed. Word passed around.
Gnomes from far and wide left their gardens and came to visit. But they stayed. This was something new for the mostly solitary Gnomes. There was something irresistible about the place. It was as if the ROUNDABOUT was casting a spell.
For people who need the real actual true story well Kevin and Vicki Campbell were a local couple who played a large part in the creation of Gnomesville. The local shire had annexed some land from a neighbour to create a T junction at the bottom of a hill. The local residents weren’t too keen as they felt that it would be unsafe. So after a public meeting and some toing and froing it was decided that a roundabout would be built instead. Not long after a gnome appeared in a hollow tree by the roundabout. It was in fact the very spot where Vicki used to leave her bicycle when she caught the school bus as a child. It was the start of a gnome sit in protest. Soon there were twenty gnomes all showing solidarity. And so Gnomesville was born. I prefer the legend. Now people come from quite literally all over the world to leave a gnome. When I was there a young couple with their son had come all the way from Malaysia to leave a gnome. There are Dutch gnomes, gnomes from Japan, even from Finland. Gnomesville is a very cosmopolitan place.
So if you are in the vicinity of Bunbury and are kicking your heels wondering what to do take a drive out to the Ferguson Valley and enjoy the sights of Gnomesville. You could even stop off and buy a gnome to leave there.
*apologies to Wally Johnson and Bob Brown for corrupting the title to their all time Aussie favourite song “Home Among The Gum Trees”
The above video is the short version. If you would like to see the test images for image quality larger please click on the photos.
This L39 or Leica Thread Mount (LTM) short telephoto lens was one of the first lenses release with the launch of Cosina’s Voigtländer branded camera line. It was discontinued in 2010 with the introduction of the 75mm f1.8 Heliar Classic in August of 2010. The 75mm f2.5 can still be purchased as new old stock from some resellers ( Cameraquest being one of them) for $689 USD or second-hand on eBay for around $300. I bought this lens new in 2004 and put a LTM to M adapter on it to use with a Bessa R2.
The original Heliar design was developed in 1900 by Dr. Hans Harting as a symmetrical 5-element variant of the simple anastigmatic and well color-corrected Cooke triplet. In 1902 the design was revised correcting astigmatism, curvature and coma better than the original design. That new design was asymmetrical six elements in five groups. In 1950 Dr. A.W. Tronnier refined the design even further to produce the Color-Heliar. When Cosina revitalised and relaunched the Voigtländer line they revived the Heliar concept with the 75mm f2.5 Color-Heliar. Cosina wanted to recreate the German optical aesthetic and engineering quality. This modern lens has a definite 1950’s look with its beautiful all metal construction. The scalloped focusing ring and ribbed aperture ring aid grip and the focusing ring is nicely dampened and has a throw of approximately 90º. The aperture ring has full and half click stops. The lens comes with a lens hood and it as well as the lens cap are made of brass. The lens hood is a push on fit over the lens hood, a particularly nice touch is the strip of velvet inside the cap to increase the friction between it and the lens hood. The gloss black finish does tend to wear but as it does so it creates a wonderful patina with the brass showing through.
Mount – L39
Six elements in 5 groups
Aperture blades – 10
Aperture range – f2.5 -16
Angle of view on 35mm – 32º
Closest focusing distance – 1m
Filter size – 43mm
Diameter – 55.5mm
Weight – 230g
Vignetting is present at f2.5, but by f5,6 it has completely disappeared. Lateral or transverse chromatic aberration is present throughout the aperture range, but it is well controlled and very slight. It is easy to remove in Lightroom as is the slight pincushion distortion using the lens correction profiles. Wide open the centre is very sharp and contrasty while the edges are a little softer and less contrasty. At f5.6 the corners are as sharp and contrasty as the centre. Diffraction starts to kick in at f11 and decreases the optical quality. There is focus shift as the lens stops down and the lens breathes when focusing.
The minimum focusing distance of 1 metre does preclude its use for head and shoulders portraits unless you use something like the Fotodiox DLX Stretch or the Voigtlander VM/E Close Focus Adapter which gives 4mm of extension and allows focusing as close as 0.65m. For half-length portraits the lens renders the background out of focus beautifully when shot slightly stopped down at f2.8 with lovely tonal transitions. This makes it a great lens for street photography and events. The fly in the ointment is that the total depth of field for 1.5m distance using an aperture of f2.8 is just 0.07m or 7 cm or 2.77 inches and the focus peaking on my A7r is not sensitive enough to make accurate focusing possible 100% of the time so I have to use the focus magnifier to punch in and fine adjust.
Now according to the pixel peepers on the forums at DPReview it is impossible to shoot moving subjects with anything less that a Nikon D5 or a Canon 1DX Mkii. In fact I get a an attack of hysterical laughter every time some one makes a post about wanting to take pictures of their young children and they are pushed towards those cameras with fast eye wateringly expensive fast primes. I digress. It is possible to shoot moving subjects with manual focus lenses and the A7r. At a recent Medieval Fayre I was able to shoot some action sequences of mounted archers and re-enactments of combat using a mixture and sometimes a combination of pre-focusing and follow focus. Stopping down to f5.6 and f8 gave a little leeway with focusing and smooth focusing action definitely helped. The whole experience of going out with a camera, two small lenses (the other was Voigtländer 15mm f4.5 Super Wide-Heliar), a couple of batteries, and an extra memory card was extremely liberating and made the whole experience fun.
The Voigtländer 75mm f2.5 Color-Heliar is not a sexy fast aperture lens and this is why it was replaced by the 75mm f1.8 Heliar Classic. Consequently it is ignored by many people which is a great shame as it is a very well made and well performing short telephoto lens. If you like candid portraiture then it is a no-brainer.
The other morning I took the dog for her usual perambulation along the river, as we were walking along deep in thought (well I was I can’t vouch for the dog) our tranquility was disrupted by the sound of thundering hooves and the odd sound of something being hit at high velocity. Getting closer I was met with a sight redolent of the medieval Eastern European steppes – not what you expect to see in Western Australia in Twenty First Century. But little did I realise that actually mounted archery or more specifically horse archery is quite a popular pastime. It is a new sport in WA, only 5 years old but is quickly attracting enthusiastic participants some of whom are jetting off to South Korea to represent Australia at the World Horseback Archery Championships. What I was seeing was a demonstration that was part of the 2017 York Medieval Fayre. If you are interested you can contact the fine people at the Western Australian Horse Archery Association via their Facebook page and they have regular events at the State Equestrian Centre in Brigadoon.